FeaturesAmiensus - Paths to Reclamation

Amiensus – Paths to Reclamation

Returning after 2020’s Abreaction, the melodic black/death act has designed an extensive welcome back, with a two-part release in Reclamation. Sweeping melodies collide with the band’s knack for explosive heaviness and copious amounts of experimentation reside within. With Part I now available, and Part 2 to come this summer, we sat down with guitarist/vocalist James Benson and bassist Todd Farnham to discuss the ins and outs of the double album, how the band has changed, the core elements of Amiensus, and much more.

Dead Rhetoric: Reclamation is your first album in four years, which I know COVID is certainly a part of that. How has Amiensus changed in that time span?

Todd Farnham: I think we weathered it pretty well for a band that was already pretty spread out. Chris is in Green Bay, WI. I’m in St Paul, MI and the other guys were in Rochester, MI at the time, but a lot of it we were just able to record riffs and bounce them back and forth. A lot of that wasn’t too bad at the time. That was the demo years, and once we got to finalizing things, we could be back in person again. 

James Benson: Our last album, Abreaction, came out in October 2020. So we pretty much finished that album in early summer of 2020 as everything was kind of between the lockdown and the distancing part of the pandemic. We started demoing pretty immediately and I think most of Part I…at least half of it was written before the end of 2020. In terms of the demo – basic guitar, drums, bass were laid down and then we took 2021, as we continued to write songs, we started to hone in on how many songs and by October/November we had all 15 songs demoed. Then when we went to track drums, and we all went to Green Bay for that to hang out with Chris [Piette] for that between Christmas and New Years. 

So a year after we had released our last album, we had all fifteen tracks…maybe four of them had vocals but we knew what we were doing and we knew it would be a double album because of how long it would be. I started advertising around that time that we would be doing about 90 minutes worth of music. I didn’t know it would work out that way, but it worked out to be about 90 minutes and two seconds.

Dead Rhetoric: You moved labels again to M-Theory Audio this time. How’d you end up with them?

Benson: We signed to Black Lion essentially in 2022. It was done predominately with this album in mind, but we had remixed and remastered our EP All Paths Lead to Death for its 5th anniversary. We all kind of felt like we had rushed that album, and wanted to get it a little better treatment. It was also kind of a test for Spencer Fox. He hadn’t mixed a straight-forward black or death metal record. He had done a lot of metalcore, djent stuff. He did a great job with it, so early around this time last year we sat down with Black Lion and we said we were almost done with the album. 

I’m not throwing them under the bus at all, I’ve been honest about this in some previous interviews too, but Black Lion kind of straight-up told us they wouldn’t be able to press it on vinyl. They didn’t want to stop us from doing what we wanted to do, and considered everything done with the contract because of the All Paths Lead to Death EP, so they said we could go do what we needed to do. I have huge respect for those guys. They were super cool about it. They did a great job with All Paths Lead to Death. It would have been cool to work with them still. 

I had worked with Chrome Waves with M-Theory releasing our last album, The Earth Will Shed It’s Skin, so I had met quite a few of their guys while doing stuff with Chrome Waves shows. So I emailed them and said I have a double album and that I know it sounds absolutely wild. But do you want to release two albums that are technically the same album, since it’s a double? Surprisingly, they were like, yeah absolutely! So we got the ball rolling. So we had plans moving and got the project going.

Dead Rhetoric: Reclamation was intended as one album then shifted into two parts. What ultimately made you decide to split the album up?

Benson: Financials. It was two different things. We knew it would cost a shitload of money to press that much vinyl at once. CD-wise it wouldn’t have been bad. CDs are cheap to make. Part of me with the double-album was, even though it hasn’t affected the multi-genre metal music genre that we kind of play, the way that people listen to music streaming is that most bands – even though I don’t really like them, I think they do a good job of what they are doing is Sleep Token. I tried their last album a shot because friends wanted me to listen to it. I was like, “this is good, but I’ll just listen to Katatonia.” I think Katatonia does it better, which someone will probably flame me for.

Farnham: I like their first EP or two before they hit the mainstream audience, but I just haven’t had time to keep up with them.

Benson: Same. That’s kind of a thing too. But releasing 15 songs at once – you can look at our Spotify plays and see that the songs at the end of albums don’t get played as much as the first ones. There are way too many good songs that I want people to fucking hear. So I approached M-Theory about releasing one single a month for 15 months. Of course, they weren’t like hell no…but more like, “that’s interesting but this sounds better.” So we figured this is part 1 and 2 after that. 

We weren’t 100% sure going into it that it was going to be a simultaneous release or be a few months apart. We got that sorted out towards the end of last year and I thought I thought I was getting a double album on vinyl but we were going to hold off the digital initially. People could order both parts on vinyl and CD but the digital would be separate. So it would be a cool thing for people who bought the physical to get it all as just Reclamation and not part 1 and 2. The digital would be separate since that’s how streaming is done. 

Farnham: One small financial hurdle at first was to try to make it work for Black Lion. When I say financially, because it was in terms of getting it released as a double album to them, was to let them get pre-order money and get money to keep pushing forward into the pressing of two parts. So the pre-orders could help pay for part 2. They still didn’t think it would still work comfortably with their budget, and that was when we moved to M-Theory. I think originally the plan was to try to do a CD as the whole double and then the digital too. Then with the vinyl do the first half and then do the second half a few months later.

Benson: Yeah, I think that was probably the first idea. Then every other week it was different [laughter].

Dead Rhetoric: Do you have a hope that once part 2 is out, people will give it a full, uninterrupted listen?

Farnham: We planned the experience to be one listen. Wherever you split it seems kind of arbitrary. I think the last track was a good track to split it. It’s an in-between track. Like Gorguts with Colored Sands having “The Battle of Chamdo” for the first and second half of that album. If we started out with that song as the start of Part 2 I don’t think it would have worked well. 

Benson: Having 15 songs, it’s not an even number either. We had some debate about switching around tracks 7-9 but we couldn’t find a better way to organize it. I definitely hope people will listen through it. All of the people that I talked to from playing in this band and who know it has been a double album, I told them to hold off [laughs]. They haven’t! I told them that I appreciate it, but I’m like wait until you can hear it all. I know it’s 90 minutes and it’s a fucking long time but I’m sure you drive. It’s a good driver. 

Dead Rhetoric: What can you say about part 2 specifically for those who have already dug into the first half?

Benson: Seeing a lot of reviews over the last few weeks about this album, and comparing it to our previous discography, its weird but there are a lot of people who are very partial to one or two of our first albums, either Restoration or Ascension. I feel like this album really pleased the people who loved Restoration. I know why, and I’m not going to spoil why as it’s not super important but it’s basically who wrote the most in part 1. Part 2 is definitely going to please the people who liked Ascension. So that’s what I will say. If you loved Ascension, our 2015 album, Part 2 pulls out all of the tricks and leaves no room for anything. It’s aggressive and super melodic at the same time, and we have a fantastic guest appearance on that part as well!

Farnham: I think splitting across an album that there are a lot of different songs that you think that it’s such a standout song, and I think there are plenty of standout songs on Part 2. 

Benson: In Part 2, every song is a standout song. Not that I didn’t think that Part 1 had every song being different. But in a lot of bands, you can hear songs as being in the same vein as certain albums. Part 2 is not like that. Every song is its own album. An album could be written in the vein of each song.

Farnham: That’s why I hope people will take the time to experience to set aside 90 minutes to listen to both at once. I think it’s such a melting pot of our inspirations. It’s all spread across the whole thing. You only have the first half of the sandwich, but there’s still more to go. It’s probably a terrible metaphor [laughs]!

Benson: It’s perfect. You are eating, and I’m a vegetarian, but you are eating a cheeseburger and the first bite is just the bun, meat, and cheese. But later on you have the ketchup, tomato, onion, and pickle. And that’s what is coming in Part 2 [laughter]!

Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned this with the different preferences with fan preferences for specific albums but Amiensus continually shifts some gears and tones with each release. What do you feel are the core elements of the band that will always stick around?

Benson: I knew this going into writing this album, but there are definitely different song structures that I personally know that are my forte. So I write them. The other guys, and I don’t know if they think this way, but they definitely have their places. But they are such good songwriters in any genre. Most of the time when I write something, I send it to them. I am not the live guitar player but just write on the records. They then adjust it to either fit their tunings or to be more musically smart since I am one of the least classically trained musicians in the band. It’s not like I’m terrible, but I didn’t take music theory ever, I was a choir kid.Kelsey [Roe] is an actually trained classical guitar major and Alec [Rozsa] is just a savant with a musical family who plays every instrument. So it helps in that way. 

So I aim to write emotions more than songs. With Part 1, not trying to take too much credit for songs that were mine, but “Reverie” was the first single and one of the first I wrote and I knew going into it that I was trying to recreate not necessarily the same emotion and feeling but I felt like how “Divinity” on Abreaction felt and I wanted to write a companion to that. In a lot of ways, I see our discography is one linear historical event in our careers as musicians. It’s not done to necessarily please people who liked those songs, but when I write, I am trying to write to those who have heard Amiensus before, more than I am trying to find new listeners. 

Farnham: I would say that is something we have always had a big discussion about. For All Paths Lead to Death, we hyperfocused on the black metal aspects of the songs. But I remember pushing back at the time, and wondering if it was the Amiensus thing to do, since I came in so heavily on Restoration being a huge fan, and then Ascension too and it was a matter of trying to find the happy middle ground on all of those inspirations. I would say at a core level, there will be always be a melodeath inspiration, some black metal inspiration, and the acoustic-y or post-black metal, but there’s always those three mediums in different mixtures and percentages that come out of the mixing bowl when you put them in.

Benson: It’s like, every song starts with a main writer and then we push it to the group and each person adds their own seasoning to it. Then we debate how much of that seasoning gets influence on the final song. That’s what makes Amiensus good, in my opinion. I’m not saying we are an amazing band, but what makes Amiensus Amiensus is that we all have some shared love of certain bands and styles, but we also have our own flavor specifically. Once we all throw our own flavor into it, it becomes something different than it started as. It’s super cool, and sometimes we want to rip each others hair out, and that’s part of the process and I like it [laughs]. 

Dead Rhetoric: Are there any soundscapes you’d like to explore with Amiensus that you haven’t gotten to do, or any that you tried that you didn’t feel worked out?

Farnham: We are going from a lot of inspirations and we can do other things mixed into our style, and I think we touched on this with some of Kelsey’s writing, is to incorporate more of an Opeth feeling. I know we have only done like one song like that, if we aren’t counting the stuff that we helped record with Oak Pantheon for the split, but I’m a huge fan of them. I’d like explore that more. There are other bands I like a lot, like Cynic is one of my favorites but I don’t know that we will do a jazz-influenced metal song.

Benson: I would if I could but stylistically as a guitar player, I am not capable of playing it. I love everything about Cynic musically, but I can’t play like that. But I can play a more shoe-gazy and grungy post metal mix. So I can incorporate some elements of Cynic and I’d love to do it. It was a really mixed opinion but the first track on Abreaction was mine and called “Beneath the Waves” and some people were really upset that it started off with a post-rock/punk song. But then other people loved it. 

I’m not afraid to push some boundaries. I’m not looking to explore it further with this band, since I have other outlets. But in terms of me personally exploring more of that neo-folk acoustic realm as well, which fits into the Opeth realm Todd spoke of, I always really wanted to do that. I have really been influenced by Opeth’s acoustics. People would probably disagree but Heritage is my favorite Opeth album. Oh, Todd’s so disappointed!

Farnham: I just have a strong opinion about that album.

Benson: I get that, totally.

Farnham: I don’t’ think it’s a bad album, but I feel like it felt like Opeth coping their influences too much with the ‘70s. It felt like Opeth playing covers of ‘60s prog and I feel like Pale Communion, in my head was what Heritage should have been..

Dead Rhetoric: What are your plans for the rest of 2024, other than the release of Part 2?

Benson: It’s a little in flux at the moment. Kelsey needs to get healthy after his scare last year. We’d love to play shows again next year. This year it probably isn’t going to happen. It will depend on how people are doing health-wise. Other than that, we have mega plans for releasing music. It’s in the air, and we have some massive ideas for releasing music regularly over the next four or five years. We might release another full-length in the next two years. 

We are getting older and have more responsibilities and family and all that, but we have a lot of music that we could work on and fall under the umbrella of Amiensus, so to consolidate that  into one project. We have been dubbing it “Ami-verse” after the multiverse of madness from The Avengers and stuff. We have a few writers who aren’t in the live band, Aaron, who has pretty much been on everything from the beginning, and Joe Waller, who was on Restoration and Ascension, and has been on this album and part 2 quite a bit. 

Farnham: I think we are just going to keep focusing on more material, that’s more or less the focus.

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